This webinar features four students from diverse worldviews discussing their plans for interfaith work as the 2020 school year begins. Sohini Bhatia (from Mt. Holyoke College), JJ Kapur (from Stanford University), Bianca Kermani (from UC-San Diego), and Ella Ramos (from the University of Illinois-Chicago) talked about their hopes and anxieties for the coming semester, how cross-worldview engagement will be more needed than ever, and what staff and faculty can do to support students on their campus.
Interfaith Work On Campus
Student Religious Leaders Prepare for Fall 2020
>> Hello, everyone. Welcome to our student religious and secular leader webinar. So glad that you all could join us today. I know folks are filtering in. And while you do that, I’m going to briefly introduce myself and then I’ll introduce our panelists before we get started. My name is Carr and I’m the Director of the Interfaith Leadership Institute here at IFYC. Many of you have probably seen me on previous webinars. I’ve been at IFYC for a number of years now and I’m excited to be able to this year move into working more closely with our Interfaith leadership Institute.
For those of you who don’t know, our ILI takes place every year and it gathers students and educators from across the country. This year, just like everything else, we have gone virtual, so I highly encourage you to check that out. It will be on September 17, and you can find out more information about that at IFYC.org/ILI. Just have to get in some organizational promotion today.
I get to cohost this panel of student leaders from across the country. Before I introduce them, I wanted to give you some context for why we’re gathering these students.
I think we all realize that going into this fall of the school year is going to be very different than any other fall semester or school year in general that any of us have ever seen in higher education, and we’ve been talking with a the loof administrators and staff and faculty across the country and tried to share their insights with you in webinars and resources and interfaith America. But we realize we also haven’t heard from the student voice on campuses across the country. So we wanted to make time for that to happen today.
And that’s why we’re gathering these students who represent a variety of different world views and traditions across the country to talk to you about how they’re feeling going into the semester that will be like no other, how their campuses are doing and what they’re thinking about from their own world view and what is motivating them as they enter this unprecedented time.
Without further ado, I want to briefly introduce our guests for today. So I’m going to start — I was going to say on my left but maybe my left is different for everybody else depending on what your screen looks like. I’ll start on my left with Ella Ramos.
She attends of University of Illinois at Chicago and we’re both from the same town. Ella, glad to have a fellow Chicagoan here. She’s entering her third year at UIC and majoring in biology and very active with some Catholic groups on campus.
I’m going to go over on the other side of me virtually to JJ Kapur. He is a student at Stanford University and is majoring in theatre and is originally from Des Moines, Iowa, where I believe he’s at right now. So from the Midwest to the Pacific West. And I should say and JJ is active in a lot of different groups on Stanford’s campus including their Sikh group there.
Then our other panelist, we have Sohini Batia. Sohini is attending Mount Holyoke in Massachusetts going into her second year this fall. She’s right now home in Tanzanisa. Sohini is an international student and has a lot of interesting thoughts and perspectives on that as well and gets the award for virtually traveling the furthest morthe webinar. I know it’s 9:00 or 10:00 at night for Sohini.
And then finally, Bianca Kermani. Bianca is a student at UC San Diego, although these originally from Nevada. I believe you’re there right now? Oh, no, you’re in San Diego. Great. I would prefer to be in the San Diego too right now. Hopefully nobody is from Nevada. I love Nevada but it is a little deserty for me. Bianca is active in Hillel at UC San Diego, and she’s majoring in linguistics and global health. I should say I left out Sohini is majoring in architecture.
Those are our panelists for today. We also, as usual, are joined by some backstage helpers. I want to give a shoutout to Katherine and Ashley who are two of our program assistants helping with some of our tech needs and also our captioner, Lisa, who is helping with our captioning. So thanks to all of them. Well, with all that being said, let’s jump right in.
I’m glad we have a diverse panel not just in worldview but the different types of institutions you all attend, and also where you all are from. So my first question is actually — should be — usually a relatively simple one this time of year but I realize might be more complicated this summer going into the fall. I would love if you could tell us all briefly what is the current situation with you and your campus? Is your campus planning on coming back in the fall in person, virtual, hybrid? Not at all? I would just love to have a quick round robin of what’s the current status of where you are and where your campus is right now. Maybe we can start with how I introduced everyone. So we’ll go Ella and then JJ and Sohini and Bianca.
>> ELLA: Sounds good. I dorm normally on campus. But this coming fall, since I only have one class in person, I will be continuing virtually from home. So I will be taking classes in the comfort of my own room. But it looks like it’s going to be like that for the next two semesters. But we’ll see.
>> Thank you.
>> JJ: So wow. It’s just changing constantly. I even wish I could fully answer you, Carr, and tell you this is how it’s going to be. I don’t even know myself. It looks like — what Stanford is doing, they’re having their freshmen and sophomores coming back in the fall and having their juniors and seniors coming back in 2021. Since I’m going to be a rising junior, I’ll be taking classes online for fall, and then hopefully coming back to campus in January.
>> Okay. Wow. Yeah. That’s a good point about even what you know now might change in a week. I feel like that’s the case almost with everyone. Sorry to interrupt. Sohini.
>> SOHINI: Mostly same for me. They’re going hybrid. They’re welcoming sophomores and freshmens in the fall, but I’m going to be staying home anyways, and hopefully they would let me go back in January if things look better.
>> Great. And will you be taking virtual courses then at home in the fall. Yes. And Bianca.
>> BIANCA: Yeah. So for UCSD and throughout the UC, universities of California, we have adopted a hybrid system that prioritizes a lot of the first years and then our lab courses. All of my classes are on online, but with lab positions and extracurriculars, a lot of students are coming back to live in the area. Even now, what we were saying earlier, everything is subject to change. Within the past three months, I can’t tell you how many different e-mails of different directs we’ve received. So it’s really anyone’s game. No, but, it could really go in any direction at this point. So people just like to stay close to be able to be prepared for any course of action.
>> I was talking to another student a few weeks ago that I happen to know from some of the work at IFYC and they were saying every day opening their e-mail, like what is it going to be today? It’s like roulette. Oh, we’re closed, we’re open, we’re half open. You’re virtual.
You’re not. That feeling you’re saying, Bianca, makes total sense from what I’ve been hearing.
That’s a good transition to the next question I wanted to ask you all. Kind of just laid out what we know at least right now in terms of what your schools are going to be communicating. But I’m interesting in diving deeper.
So how are you all as students, as young people, feeling right now? Because you all have been undergraduates during one of the most extraordinary times in American history for numerous reasons, whether it’s the coronavirus pandemic, some of the racial justice reckoning that’s been going on around the country in a similar time period. You’ve all been sent home from campus in the spring, and as you all just mentioned are anticipating uncertain fall at best. So I’m just wondering, like how are you personally feeling? What type of emotions, what type of attitude are you feeling as we get closer to a fall start date at your different insitutions. Maybe I’ll start with JJ and then others can jump in.
>> JJ: Yes. Thanks, Carr. Gosh, how am I feeling? I think it’s changed. It has really changed since I first came home, and home, what a relative term that is. You know, my first year at Stanford, I was really home sick the whole time. I really remember that. I kept thinking about Iowa. And in my second year at Stanford, which is last year, Stanford started to feel like home for me. And right as it was just beginning to become home was when like the fishing line came in and just brought me back. And I really left kicking and screaming. I petitioned to stay on campus. I really did not want to go home. And part of that was I found an intellectual home in the theatre community. We had just finished a fantastic play. I felt nourished by the friends I was beginning to make on campus. Everything was going so well.
And all of a sudden, I have to go cam to Des Moines. I would say that first in March is when I came home. I would say March, April, May, those first 2 to 3 months were really tough. I think I was feeling a lot of stress, a lot of anxiousness, a lot of uncertainty. It was hard for me to accept coming home, and it almost felt in some ways like reversion back to high school where I felt like it was my senior year, strangely, where I’m in my parents’ home in the basement, and it was really weird to think about.
But I think now, in this moment right now, I’m feeling a lot more acceptance in being home. I think there’s even this surrender. I think I’ve come to terms with where I am and I’m starting to make the most of what I’ve been given and starting to think about the gratitude of I have a home, you know, with so many of our international students that I’m friends with, they’re struggling to even have a home they can stay in right now. I’m feeling more gratitude, and I’m honestly right now, taking a day at a time. So that’s a little bit of where I am.
>> Yeah. How do others of you feel about that? It sounds like, JJ, you went through some phases once you got home and you had to be a little bit convinced to even leave campus, I mean. I’m wondering does that resonate with others? Or how have others been feeling at this moment?
>> ELLA: So definitely. A lot of that. I could kind of associate with you, JJ, about that. It was really rough. A couple weekends right before school got canceled for me or shut down, I should say, I had just come back from a retreat with the Catholic center on campus, and I spent a weekend with around 30 people from the community there, and 30 people that I hadn’t known before, and I just got to know them very well over that short weekend. I felt like the rug was, you know, yanked from under me right at that moment when school was just announced that it would be cancelled and people should go home for an indefinite amount of time.
I felt kind of alone at that moment. And then the weeks coming after, it was just like yay, we get a little vacation, and then it’s like but when is the vacation going to end? We don’t know when I’m going to come back and see my friends again. And it’s been especially hard again because I had gotten used to the dorming life and seeing my friends every day and living with my friends and then being able to hang out at the Catholic center and being able to see those people. So it was hard, and it was definitely an adjustment. Just being around my family every day again, just like you, JJ, but yeah. It’s been a struggle, and now, there has been moments of surrender and like of course, it’s 2020. What else is going to happen? But yeah. Just being hopeful for the future, I think, is the best thing that we can do right now.
>> BIANCA: If I could just chime in. What JJ and Ella were saying on the dot, not to be dramatic, but it’s been incredibly trying on mental health. I love my family, and I quarantined with them a lot until recently, and I love them to death, but it’s very hard to be within the same quarters for so long.
>> That’s why you’re back at San Diego.
>> Exactly. I’m actually taking summer classes and a lab here. But my parents are essential health workers so maintaining strict quarantine was really vital. But not so great for me and my siblings’ mental health. It was very difficult to go from — and I’m sure the rest of the panelists can resonate with this, being super active on campus and having just a Google calendar that’s back-to-back to back and then all of a sudden, it’s like bed, kitchen, like there’s no — like the campus became so much smaller so to speak. But I also, like what JJ was saying, I felt a lot of gratitude and felt almost that I matured so much within these past few months, that I feel like my priorities shifted. I feel that especially as a global health student, what a time to be a global health student and to be able to learn from these things. But on the other hand, like, it’s also — it’s comforting to know that everybody lost something from this. Everybody is missing out on something. Weddings have been canceled. I know a lot of our Jewish events with having large amounts of people. That had to be completely compromised and our Passover Seder was nothing like I ever experienced before. We had been experiencing this huge event we wanted to bring to campus for the first time that was a Shabbot dinner on campus with 360 people which is a number that’s really well regarded in the faith. So having Chabot360 and having to cancel that and having all these small college events are suddenly ripped out from under you, and there’s no deadline or just like okay, two more months. It’s not like that. But definitely the way I think about things and the way I think about society and priorities and gratitude and family and all of that is very different than the way I thought about them in February or March. So I have gained a lot. I think I’ve gained more than I’ve lost, but what I’ve lost is very loud, so it’s hard to move past that.
>> Yeah. Anything to add. Go ahead, Sohini.
>> SOHINI: I wonder felt like I was on the very other end of the spectrum because of maybe a first year on campus. I was missing home, and I processed it really fast. As soon as I got the news, I cried tons and then I was like, well, it’s not like I’m going to be able to do anything about this, so I’m going to have to go home. And I caught a flight in the next three days, and it was a 2-day flight, and I’m back home. And I was just like what am I doing here? This is what my school year looks like now. Then of course, there was the IC announcement and all of these other things going on which was overwhelming. It was an overwhelming amount of information.
>> Are you talking about the international student —
>> Just to take things as they come.
>> And when you say IC, you’re talking about international student role a month ago, they put out and revoked.
>> Go ahead.
>> SOHINI: It taught me to take things as they come and not plan too ahead.
>> Yeah. I mean, I’ve been thinking about how for so many people their campuses are now their computer screens. Right ? I forget which one of you just alluded to this, but your campus narrowed down so much when this was done, that it narrowed down to a computer screen. I know for staff and faculty, it’s the same thing too. They’re also at home and everyone is kind of accessing campus in the same way in a much more limited means.
One of the things I responded to which I want to actually draw my next question from is something that Bianca said about the intangible — there are tangible activities but the tangible things you’re missing from being on campus, and how do recreate those in a virtual way if it’s even possible, and what Bianca was saying — talking about passover, I’d love to hear more things like that you’re think being the fall.
That’s an on-campus question. Those would be an activity you would organize on campus. But also, you all come from different world views. What stories or concepts or activities like that are you drawing on during these times in and how is it helping sustain you during a very as one you mentioned, a very traumatic time right now? It’s a 2-part question.
One, are you thinking about how to recreate some of these experiences in a new way this fall? And then also, what in your tradition are you drawing on during this time? You can answer both or either.
And maybe I’ll throw out — sorry, Bianca, since you’re mentioning the Passover, I’m wondering what you’re thinking about going especially the fall that I know has a number of big Jewish holidays coming up.
>> BIANCA: Yeah. Fall, we have four holidays back-to-back to back within one month. It’s a lot. It’s also very challenging because a lot of our holidays require us to be off technology which can be very isolating. I was speak with my rabbi about in this week. What is going to happen for holidays like our new years and Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. And how do we practice these holidays with the community. Even the talk of like, “oh, what if we had waitlists for Shabbat dinner and only ten people can come each week or if we rented out one of the plazas on campus and had everything 6 feet apart for prayer.’’ This is all very unprecedented and there’s no — like finding a source in a text to be able to find an answer is all very interpretive. So it’s really interesting to see how like we’re kind of being so to speak, being thrown into hot water to dry to deal with things that have been practiced for thousands of years and now all of a sudden we don’t know how to practice them almost.
But it’s really difficult. I think both the observing group on campus, we have maintained a lot of Zoom conversations and hangouts, but also being on a computer for class, and hanging out, and even like Netflix and relaxing time can be exhausting.
My eyes are not happy after these few months, but I think with going back to what you said with the holidays, definitely making huge adjustments to be able to still maintain these practices without completely just writing it off, but with the help of campuses and are being able to have that administrative assistance with ensuring that these student activities can continue. I think that’s vital to ensuring that they’ll actually be carried out too.
>> Yeah. We wanted our questions that we’ll get to a little bit later is what can university staff and faculty do to support, not just you, but students in general, and I think helping students think through what does — what do these activities look like in the fall is probably a key element of that while also supporting some of the emotional needs of students too. But we’ll get to that in a little bit. I’m interested, what are other reflections that some of you have?
>> SOHINI: So just like Bianca said, I think we have on the interfaith community on campus held on to the virtual spaces we had, because we could not be together in the physical space, because this was our one social activity that we could do and talk to each other and be there for each other in this time.
Especially, I think, for us, I’m part of Sri on campus, and I think for us, it was a very talking space. We were not necessarily just talking about faith, but in relation to cultures and Hinduism is tied very deeply and rooted in culture.
This was one — this made me realize that faith groups can help students emotionally and mentally, because you’re giving them a space and giving them a meaning in this time. So we were hoping that we can continue that for the fall, and hopefully, the fact that we’re virtual will actually encourage students to participate and interact more.
>> ELLA: Yeah, for sure. The thing about this whole pandemic is that this is the first time in a while that everyone is experiencing the exact same thing, and like on a more personal note, my mom is immunocompromised. So kind of like you, Bianca, it’s more strict with quarantine and being able to figure out what is okay to do, you know, how much exposure we can risk just because we don’t want to get my mom sick and have her relapse from a previous illness. But yeah. Just being able to do Zoom calls has definitely been really helpful, and everyone’s free now. So just being able to connect with people.
My family is doing family Zoom calls every Sunday now, something that we don’t normally do. Just being able to draw on that, and just, you know, even having masses online and streaming those. It’s very, you know, not normal at all. Especially not being able to sit next to anyone and having in the comfort of our living room, but not being able to have that sense of community, that real community has been taxing religiously. But yeah. Being able to have that connection while still being a part has definitely helped. Zoom has been a bridge for a lot of people in the community.
>> Yeah. It’s such an odd thing to — I really resonated with what you just said. It’s an odd thing to feel more connected with people. My family is probably talking more in this time than we did previously, but also more alienated from people as well, right? Just what you were saying about not being able to attend a service together or not being able to sit next to someone and discuss what you just heard from the priest or the pastor or whoever.
I feel that a lot too. It’s such I — I want to say oxymoron but that’s not yet. It’s such a push and full and adds to my uncertainty. I feel like I’ve become much closer to some people because I talk more to them and I’m also sitting in this square box all day by myself. Very strange.
JJ, I think you were about to say something before I interrupted?
>> JJ: No, right on what you were saying, Carr, about something Ella was talking about, the connections we have and how different they are now because of what’s virtual. Whenever I would come home to Des Moines, one of the things I would most look forward to is going to the Gurdwara and going to services on Sunday with my family and having lungar which is the community meal we have on Sundays.
There’s just something whenever I come home. It’s like, you know, you have Da and then you have a cup of ja and you engage in conversation with the songa, with the community, and that’s so important to our faith.
There are these elements of our faith that are things we take for granted, I think, in terms of coming together and sharing a meal and breaking a bread and sharing a cup of ja. And I am coming to realize these are things you can’t take for granted and goes to what Bianca was saying early on, about gratitude. It’s given me the sense of Jeez, the fact that 90% of my day now is on screens or people are on squares, the 10% of the experiences I have which are not on the screen have become so much more meaningful.
And I’m just feeling that they’re once in a lifetime opportunities and that — and we don’t know how long we’re going to have just in terms of like being with someone physically, being physically present with them. As someone who studies theatre, I think about this all the time. You know, I became a theatre major when one of my friends in the sikh student association, we make skits talking about stressors that in conversations that Sikh parents have with their Sikh children, about becoming a profession that’s not a doctor, engineer or lawyer. We wrote these skits intend for a live audience. Now we’re writing these skits intended for zoom.
We’re all performing in some way. Theatre as a whole, something we were talking about Carr, is changing. Who knows maybe in 20 years from now, all the plays we watch will be designed for this format. So much is changing, but it’s making me not take for what we do have in person.
>> Hamlet will be in one box on zoom and the skull he’s holding will be in another box on zoom. A liitle Shakespeare joke. One of the things I am taking away from that and I don’t want to make too big of a stretch between a college community and a religious or secular community, but I think that so much of what we are still connected to we can study and read and go along with the academic experience or the more intellectual part of the experience or secular experience.
What I think a lot of people are missing and having to recreate is the communal aspect is what keeps a lot of people — maybe I’m speaking for myself — what keeps a lot of people within the community is the communal aspect of being around others, sharing holidays, sharing — being able to process emotions through being in community with one another. That’s the part that can be recreated in part and the other aspects just can’t be re-created. At least yet.
I think that’s the same on a college campus as well. There are some things you can try to recreate in am zoom and maybe they’re better than being in person and there are some positives. There are some things you can’t do, and I hear people struggling with that a lot.
I have 2 or 3 more questions for you all. I also want to encourage our folks that are watching the webinar to put in their questions in the Q&A, because we’re going to make some time for that in just a few minutes. If you do have questions for our students or for myself, feel free to go ahead and start plopping that in the Q&A and I’ll read those out.
My next question for you all actually touches on some things you’ve already alluded to, but we have a lot of staff watching this webinar and a lot of faculty watching this webinar and a lot of people who work on campuses watching this webinar.
What would you tell them to think about in term of how they can support you, meaning not you in particular, necessarily, but you as a student, the student community when they come back in whatever form they come back in the fall? I know that they are trying to figure out the best use of their role too in this new world that we live in. And I know they’re interested in like what the students need right now.
Are there any particular things for them to focus on or themes for them to think about? I know Bianca, you alluded to a lot of this time is messing with people’s mental health. I think that would be certainly be one. And we’ve talked more about that. What would you tell people — you have this platform. What would you tell people to think about in terms of supporting students in the fall?
>> SOHINI: This is something I thought about even last spring, like the last half of spring, whatever we had the set — semester much it’s very easy to get lost in these boxes that we
talked about, and when we’re physically in a physical space, we have this personal connection which we lose when we’re virtual. I think making an effort to personally connect with the students. I know it’s hard. Some classes are a hundred or over, but if a student reaches out to you, in particular, take the time to connect with them, because it means a lot to the student.
>> That’s a great point.
>> ELLA: I can piggyback on that. I was originally in a Spanish class right as school got canceled or — yeah. It got shut down, and I was struggling with this one project for the Spanish class, and I reached out to the teacher asking a clarifying question, and then she answered the question. She was very prompt in answering the question, but she’s like, you know, just checking in with you, how are you doing? It was the simplest thing that my instructor could have done, but she really was genuinely, and she followed up I answered just saying this is really hard, but if you really need anything, just let me know. Because I think she was feeling just as isolated as I was at that moment. But she genuinely cared, you know, just to see how I was doing. She wanted to get — not enough people were reaching
out to her as students about what they were struggling with course-wise, how midterms or finals were going.
She didn’t seem like she was getting a heads-up. Just because, you know, right around March, April, that’s when teachers started getting overloaded with all these things on how to proceed with their own courses, and just a bunch of news updates, but yeah. Like Sohini said, it is hard, but if a student does reach out, just check in to see how they’re doing. Obviously, you can’t send a blast e-mail to 300 students if you have a lecture that big, but being able to check in and maintain those personal connections.
Definitely back that up. Yeah.
>> BIANCA: Piggybacking off of what Ella was saying. In addition to checking in, the biggest issue I realized with my school was that a lot of lectures were recycled so I would take their podcasts from past quarters and then not be able to — there was no interaction, I was taking five classes in my spring quarter, and all five of them were recorded by the very end.
Whether that was because of like racist interruption that forced them to only record it or just pure like convenience for the professor and TAs, but it really — I never realized how much I need to talk to my instructor to be able to really grasp the information, and then I think, most of my classes also resonated with that, and the next thing I knew, there were 150 people with office hours, and it was just the same thing. I never got to ask any questions.
So maybe providing more time for there to be 1-on-1 time, and whether it’s more convenient for professors to have those recorded lectures. But humans are social creatures and I love talking as you might have noticed and I need to be able to have those conversations with my instructors as well as my administration and this has been a very overwhelming time aside from COVID. So students do need a lot of support mental health-wise based on, you know, the current events going on in this country, and the feelings that different student orgs and students as individuals are feeling. So yeah, definitely just making the effort to go beyond just an official e-mail blast and treating students like people and not just having that formal relationship, I guess.
>> JJ: Echoing what everyone is saying. It’s one of those things where I think the most important thing is showing us that we matter. We matter to the school. And I think what was really difficult when our administration made the decision about international students and then very fortunately rescinded it, I think for so many of my friends, I’m not an international student, but I still took it so personally. I was like, that was a very explicit sign to tell all of those individuals that they don’t matter. I’m glad that — especially my university came in and said you do matter, and as students, we’re going to fight this decision that our administration made. Fortunately that’s what happened.
I think during this difficult time, how can the school show that their students matter is also tieing in to especially what Ella was mentionmentioning, being open and being accessible to really support them, that means having office hours and having the opportunity to meet 1-on-1 with a student or even changing the grading scheme where if a student is really struggling and they can’t do this final project or can’t take this test at this exact time, being open to saying, do you know what? All of your learning does not culminate in this one exam or this one project, but I recognize that you’re dealing with a lot right now. I guess flexibility is something that really would go above and beyond and has for many of my professors.
>> Yeah. Excellent points all around, I think. And that last point about showing — demonstrating that you as students matter is really critical, because sometimes, I know that you all probably feel you’re the last to know about the decisions that happen, and the least involved in those decisions on your campus, and so whether it’s reaching out to individuals or just paying more attention to the student voice, that’s really echoed.
Let’s jump straight to — we’ve been getting a lot of great questions from our audience out there. Thank you for that. Let’s start with Ellie Thompson. Thank you for sending a question from Utah. She asks what are some ways that you’re think being incorporating racial reconciliation in any of your interfaith events or any of your world view events in your particular tradition? How are you — and I’ll broaden that question out a little bit. How are you anticipate ng race being addressed on your campus? Have there been particular incidents around race on your campus this summer? Or in the past that you believe will have an impact going into the fall? Obviously, the whole country has been focused on in this summer as well, and numerous ways. It’s been interesting to see how it plays out in different sectors of American life. The reckoning with America’s history with race. I’m just interested. What are some ways that your campus or your work on campus is going to be addressing racial reconciliation?
>> BIANCA: I can start if that’s okay.
>> BIANCA: Yeah, so, unfortunately, UCSD has a history of not the best social justice education. If anyone has heard of the Netflix show dear white people, it was actually based off of an incident that happened at my university ten years ago, and based on the Compton Cookout and it was very infamous in our school’s history.
Since all students are now required to take a course in diversity, equity, and inclusion, so despite your major, your college, whatever it may be, you have to take that course. And in terms of social justice, we have a vice chancellor just for diversity, equity, and inclusion, that she makes her way to the resource centers and to the different student organizations to be able to really have that 1-on-1 connection. It’s something I’m really grateful for to be able to have that administrative – I don’t want to say attention, but what JJ was saying, like they see me. They see me as a student and see my fellow students and more than a hi/bye. Ask how are you doing? How have you been? With the situations on campus, even though no one has been on campus, I went running on campus, and the amount of art they saw, the amount of just like demonstrations that — even when no one was there, they made it present that these social justice issues are still a campus conversation. And it was very symbolic to see that.
Yeah. I think definitely my professors for one were very understanding with changing grading schema, allowing extensions because this was an issue that hit a lot of people in a home way which was very hard to balance everything. But there needs to be more dialogue and conversation and really using the campus environment as a space of intellect, as a space to be able to have that exchange of dialogue, to further education as one. That’s the whole point of a university. So just to be able to facilitate those conversations,
I think, in any place, whether that’s STEM. I think STEM really needs it. I’m sure Ella can agree with that. I’m almost embarrassed. We don’t have these conversations, and medical racism and things like that are super important. We live in the Jewish community. We’ve been not joking about it, but before we’ve always been joking that we only think of white Jews and only thing of these ideals but we don’t think about Ethiopian Jews, Jews of color, Jews of north Africa, middle east.
We don’t think of those Jews and having those conversations as well with this racial epidemic so to speak has been vital to these conversations and I really feel that my community and my campus community is really advanced and that’s another gain from this loss of the pandemic to really have the time to sit and delve into these issues that we wouldn’t really otherwise.
>> Right. That you could brush off or it would be for a day and then something else happens.
>> BIANCA: For sure.
>> Anyone else want to add on to that question?
>> ELLA: Yeah. So it’s funny, because just a couple weeks ago, my best friend participated in a panel a lot like this one, but it was for UIC, and it was just like the east and west side of campus, just having a dialogue on the past event that happened in early June. But you know, what was interesting about this panel was that it was mostly students who were speaking, and a lot of staff, and instructors were in attendance, but a lot of students as well were there. But they mostly were just speaking about how, you know, administration needs to do better. All these students were there to have their voice be heard, and being a person of color, it is very important to be able to have that opportunity, you know, and not to be cynical, but not being — not being sure on whether or not those things are actually going to be taken into account is kind of scary.
But being able to have that platform in the first place and being heard, a lot like Bianca was saying, just letting us be seen as people, and you know, let administration know how we’re feeling and how isolated sometimes we feel due to prejudice and racism has been pretty impactful, and being able to — just let them know this is how we’re feeling and we’re scared and on top of that, we’re dealing with the pandemic. A lot of things stacking up. Being able to say something has been very meaningful.
>> Thank you for sharing that. I want to make sure to ask this question. This next question, because it comes from a student, John Lazar. John is a rising junior, and he asks what kind of skill set do you think will be most important for student leaders going in to the fall? Are there certain skills that you see kind of rising in important going into the fall? Are there other skills that you wish you had more of a strengthened, that you want to work on going into the fall? What kind of skill sets do you see being important going into this year?
>> JJ: That’s a phenomenal question. The ability to listen has increasingly become, I think, one of the most important skills any of us can have. Just turn on any news channel now. As a former speech and debate kid, it pains me when I see a debate these days and it doesn’t sound as if anyone is listening or at least listening from their heart, embodied listening. I think we’re listening to respond, we’re not listening to feel, and that’s something that is something I’m constantly trying to work on. It’s invaluable.
>> I love that.
>> Anyone else have a thought on skills?
>> I think also to be able to connect to people. The ability to be vulnerable. In such spaces, it’s hard in any way, but it’s even more important now. So yeah. And Ella, were you going to say something?
>> ELLA: No. She took the words right out of my mouth.
>> Okay. Thank you. Let’s see here. I want to combine two questions for this next one. They’re two different ones but on a similar theme. I’ll read them both out and then we can go from there. So this is from Marcus. Are religious and spiritual student organizations collaborating in this remote/virtual environment? If not, why not? And if so, how? I think Marcus is asking are spiritual organizations doing a hello, are they collaborating right now virtually? Hold that. That’s part one of the question.
And then Marcus also asks, now that operations are more virtual, do you find opportunities to become more collaborative with other institutions across the country?
So take a similar theme there, do you find yourself or a group you’re a part of working more with other campus groups because of this virtual world we all live in? And then part two is have you found yourself maybe like working with another institution that previously you nod — not have been able to collaborate with, or working with the InterVarsity at another institution. You can answer either one of those questions.
>> SOHINI: Thinking of interfaith collaborations, we’re definitely doing those. We had them before as well. We just shifted more virtual. It’s not the same but we’ve got to deal with it. We have interfaith lunches which are not lunches anymore. We have speakers from different interfaith backgrounds who come over and we talk about social justice and service in relation to faith groups or nonfaith-based work, and then we also have theology which is what it sounds like. It’s theology but a relaxing place for people of different faith to come together and engage in religious literary. I think what has been a gift in disguise with this is that I have actually been talking to other IFYC coaches, and we’re hoping we can collaborate. We are in a 5-college consortium, and we’re hoping to collaborate to create a conference for interfaith student leaders on campus, and we can hold like a minireligious literacy and student leadership workshop type of thing. Hopefully that will work out. Maybe that’s what is going to come out of this virtual space.
>> That’s really exciting, Sohini. I should have mentioned at the beginning that Sohini is one of our IFYC coaches, which is a student program for some of our more dedicated interfaith leaders on campus. I’m glad you all are talking about that. I saw someone else take themselves off of mute, like they were about to say something.
>> BIANCA: Yeah. Sorry.
>> That’s all right. That’s good.
>> BIANCA: With the other part of the question, I think the amount of Facebook groups that have risen at the start of this pandemic. Hillels have arisen all around the country, Canada, Israel, the U.K. Everyone is meeting and talking to each other, and having to create — I’ve had study groups with people from Connecticut. Different kinds of things and being able to — we invite them to our student org events we come to. A dating app has arised for people to find their Corona cuties – it’s a Jewish dating app – Facebook.
Hillel has taken a advantage of that. We have done a lot of speaker events that are booked relative to Jewish life and Israel, to Corona in general and just talking about like different advancements that have been made in different fields in response to the pandemic, which has been really nice as a student. So I would say that like there’s definitely been an expansion of horizons for those student orgs.
>> Right. Thanks to both of you. So we’re almost at the end. And I wanted to end the webinar on at least — I don’t know if I can say positive note, but at least a forward-looking, helpful note. And I’d love to hear just very short from each of you if you were talking to another student right now, which actually, you are, but pretend like you’re talking to another student on your campus or going to a campus. What’s one thing that you would think about that would comfort them right now or to look forward to for the school year that will, as we’ve all discussed, will be quite uncertain going forward?
What’s one piece of advice or piece of comfort or just how to find a Corona cutie that will reassure them during this time? And I’ll start — maybe I’ll start with Sohini.
>> SOHINI: I was still thinking. I’ll just say what is on my head. And this might be a little different than the usual positive note, but I am a big believer that things happen for a reason. I think that across all people and I think that this has happened to us for a reason. All of these things that are happening, the racial justice, the pandemic, we’re being given time to reflect on ourselves and our society, and I think we should just take it on a positive note and make the best of what we have and if you think positively, you manifest it, you will get it.
>> Thank you. Maybe I’ll go to Bianca next.
>> BIANCA: Well, how can I follow that? I just think — I keep trying to remind myself that this can’t last forever, and I know —
>> Or can it?
>> BIANCA: No, no, no. We’re not thinking that way, Carr. [Laughter]
>> That’s not positive. You’re right. Go ahead.
>> BIANCA: This can’t last forever, and like I said, I think I’ve gained a lot and learned a lot from what I have lost so to speak. But there’s also like my mom keeps reminding the three of us at home that there’s one day where we’re not going to all live together anymore and my siblings are going to move out of the house and she does a great job of reminding us of this.
It’s nice to have the time to all be together again, but this isn’t going to last forever, and I keep saying this. When it’s over, it’s going to be so sweet and everything that we took for granted, I think, it was JJ that was saying this before, everything that we took for granted is going to be that much sweeter, and it’s going to be that much more of a blessing and we’ll be infinitely more grateful to it than we ever thought we would before. Every hug, every dinner, I know I resonate a lot with what JJ was saying about your meals and communal gatherings. My heart aches to do those things again. It’s going to be so beautiful. Even legendary, I would say.
>> Okay. I’ll quote you on that. We’ll check back. Thanks. Ella.
>> ELLA: Both you ladies set the bar pretty high. But yeah. I would say this may be a little more, I don’t know, realistic than positive. Sorry, Carr. Just being able to admit that there are some low points. Things come in waves for me at least. Just being able to deal with being like ah, today was a really good day. I got out of bed no problem and had a couple of meetings. But then acknowledging that there are some days where it is hard to get out of day and hard to accept the fact that, you know, you can’t get out of the house, just being able to deal with that and being able to draw on the fact that you do — there’s a friend out there that you can talk to. And you know, just drawing on my faith and being able to pray every day and being grateful for everything that I do have, and you know, not so much looking at how much I’ve lost but actually how much I’ve gained and how I can connect with people because of the gift of technology. So just being able to admit that sometimes, you know, you’re not at your best, but that the next day, things will get more bearable and better.
>> Thank you. All right. J.J. Last but not least.
>> JJ: Again, all right. I will just say that echoing so much of the love that I’m hearing. Honestly, I can’t wait for the day, you know, I can feel it. I’m back on Stanford’s campus, boom, like see everyone. Faces, people and I don’t know. I feel like a freshman again. I think there’s this beginner’s mind that I think and Bianca was talking about that we’re all going to have. The jadedness and cynicism just kind of and it’s like wow. A hug. A handshake. Wow! And so, I’m just stoked is the word.
>> Great. I think that’s a wonderful note to end on. I want to give you all virtual high fives or hugs or handshakes. So I’ll do that right now. But thank you all so much. Really appreciate it. JJ, Sohini, Bianca, Ella. I know that those that watched this webinar are grateful for the time you gave to give these thoughtful answers. Maybe we’ll reconnect with you after the fall semester and see how things went. Thank you all so much. Really appreciate it. Thank you all who attended and my IFYC colleagues for supporting this. And I hope you have a good rest of the summer and somewhat more certain fall going. Thanks, everyone.